iS Clinical’s First-Ever Retinol Won’t Just Anti-Age Your Skin—It’s Going to Hydrate It

The brand gave Marie Claire an exclusive look at the “innovative” formula.

iS Clinical Retinol + Emulsion
(Image credit: Courtesy of iS Clinical)

Two things I love in the skincare world: iS Clinical and retinol. I’ve been using both for over a decade, so it’s understandable that when the former launched the latter, I was automatically on-board. That said, retinols, retinoids, and retinol-alternatives are launching what feels like every other day, so it takes a really special formula to actually bring something new to the scene. Per some intense testing, and a conversation with the brand’s founders and clinical director, I’m confident that this Retinol + Emulsion 0.3 does just that. 

It’s an anti-aging powerhouse (as all retinoids are), but comes with the added benefit of protecting skin health and boosting hydration, while sideswiping common retinoid side effects like dryness, irritation, and redness. Instead, it’s clinically proven to make skin feel and look healthier, better, and more radiant, while combating dehydration, free radicals, and radiation. To get the full breakdown (and a first look!) at this just-launched product, read ahead. 

How It’s Different

iS Clinical is known for its high-efficacy, clinically-backed skincare. It’s a science-backed brand that delivers results, which is why I found it so surprising that there was no retinol in the range—until now. The reality is, the brand has spent years working to create a formula that delivers the youth-boosting results of a retinol, without compromising skin health. “When we set out to create a new retinol-based product, we knew it had to be completely different from anything on the market by not only offering boosted performance in several areas, but the formula also had to effectively address skin concerns in a way that had not been seen before,” brand founders Bryan Johns and Alec Call exclusively tell Marie Claire. 

So over the past few years, they’ve been hard at work identifying botanical ingredients that work to boost the power of retinol, along with antioxidants and growth factors that will enhance the look of radiance and plumpness that much more. “In short, we have created ultra-high-performance formulas that are clinically proven to effectively address the signs of aging (such as reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reducing the appearance of an uneven complexion, and helping to reduce the appearance of blemishes) while it offers hydration and protection from free-radicals,” they add. 

The Ingredient Low-Down

Understanding an INCI list is an overwhelming task to say the least. Getting a grasp on this formula however is pretty easy. There are three main categories: The ingredients that are going to boost collagen and elastin, the ingredients that are going to strengthen and hydrate the skin, and the ingredients that are going to work overtime for antioxidant protection. 

This product in particular contains botanically-derived retinol, as well as bakuchiol, a plant-based retinol alternative, as well as rice bran extract, rosemary extract, and vitamin E—a complex that boosts retinol’s potency. I was a little hesitant here—higher potency can mean a higher likelihood of irritation. But that’s where shea butter, ectoin, and tripeptide-1 swoop in; all are focused on strengthening the skin, soothing irritation, and creating a strong, hydrated skin barrier. The third prong: Vitamin C, an antioxidant that's going to brighten skin and protect against environmental stressors (read: pollution, free radicals). 

How to Apply

Application protocol is pretty similar to other retinoid products on the market—you want to ease into the process to make sure you can tolerate the formula. Despite this product’s focus on hydration and a healthy skin barrier, retinol can still be irritating. As such, start out using two to three pumps every two days a week for three weeks. Should all go well, you can apply the product three days a week (aka every other day). If your skin still feels ok after the increase, you might even be able to tolerate daily use. 

Retinol does increase sensitivity to the sun, so you should only apply this at night and make sure to wear an SPF of 30 or higher during the day. 

My Review

To know me is to know I have sensitive skin. Surprisingly, I’m able to tolerate retinoids fairly well (probably because I’ve been using one vitamin A derivative or another since the age of 12), but every new product poses a risk. Will I have dry flakes? Redness? Irritation? Who knows. Regardless, it’s my job to test. 

My first impression of the product was oddly comforting. The retinol + emulsion feels more like a lotion than anything. The bright yellow hue threw me off a bit, but I was pleasantly surprised by the seeming moisturizing feel of the product. Plus, the brand’s clinical director, Dr. Charlene DeHaven, told me that the product was specifically designed to minimize “irritation, redness, peeling, dryness, and sensitivity,” and I was breathing a sigh of relief. 

Over the course of a few weeks, I noticed my skin looked brighter, firmer, and plumper than before. While I don’t have a ton of wrinkles at this point in my life (I’m still in my 20s, for the record), I did notice that my skin was smoother and more even-toned. Most interestingly though, I found Dr. DeHaven’s promises to hold true. My skin wasn’t burning or tingling in the slightest. In fact, it actually felt more hydrated and balanced than before. Hard to believe, I know. But don’t knock it until you try it. 

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar,,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.